Sadly, when couples split up they are often too immersed in their own grief to consider the feelings of their children or do not understand that children are also fully fledged people entitled to know what is happening, to be heard and to be consulted.
Whilst suffering the effects of divorce and separation the adults at least have the ability to make choices. They can choose where to live and with whom. Children do not have that advantage. They are economically dependant, inexperienced in life and have not fully developed their vocabulary so can find it more difficult to express what they are feeling.
The adults often hand over control to their lawyers who are even more remote from the children than are the parents and the children are rarely heard within the legal context.
Happily there is a better alternative namely Family Mediation. This is a private way in which an independent person, known as a Mediator, helps separating or divorcing couples learn to communicate better and reach solutions to some or all of their issues relating to separation, divorce, finances, property or children.
Mediators are trained professionals experienced in helping people settle their issues. They are neutral. They cannot give legal advice but help the parties to look at solutions to resolve their issues and can give general information about the law and other implications.
Mediation is voluntary and confidential. This means that what is discussed in mediation cannot be referred to later if the matter goes to court. Before mediation starts the parties will sign an agreement to mediate in which these matters will be agreed. This means that if the parties agree that it would be helpful to have their agreement made into a court order they will then need to see a lawyer about that.
Mediation is not marriage guidance.
Typically, both parties will meet with the mediator in several sessions.
At the end of the process it is usual for the parties to take their proposals to their lawyers to deal with the legal formalities. However, it is important to understand that mediation is a voluntary process,lawyers and courts do not have to be involved and that mediation models can vary.
Because it is more direct than dealing through lawyers it is usually a lot cheaper than only using lawyers.
Parents can ask the mediator to talk with the children, which often helps the adults to reach better decisions concerning their arrangements for their children.
The purpose of meeting the children (at which the parents are not present) is to find out, if possible, their wishes and feelings. The meeting is confidential. The only exception to the confidentiality is where any child protection issues arise in which case the matter would need to be reported elsewhere. The parents must have previously agreed that nothing said in that private meeting will be disclosed to the parents unless the children have agreed to that happening. Usually the children do agree to tell the parents.
The parents also agree not to school the children beforehand about what to say in the mediation or to ask them about what they have said to the mediator.
In most cases children report how pleased they are to be consulted, to have their say and to feel they matter. Sometimes they have nothing to say but are pleased to have been given the opportunity to do so. Many say they have not been asked their views before. Children will want to be assured that the process is something of value to them in their own right and not simply something for the parents to use in their separation from each other.
Seemingly simple matters can make all the difference to children. For example in one case the children reported that they wished their parents would at least say hello and goodbye to each other, just that would make all the difference. They also report not liking their parents being horrid to each other and saying horrible things about each other. They like the mediator to be a good listener. The mediator needs to establish rapport and trust quite quickly which underscores that it is important that mediators undertaking this work directly with children have appropriate training in consulting directly with children.
Some reported outcomes from parents include a mother saying that the mediation "had helped tremendously in coping with children" and a father saying that the mediation enabled him to see his youngest child. The children report an easing of stress, as they do not then feel so much caught in between their parents. Generally children report that the mediation helped them to better understand both what was going on and the views of the other family members. Furthermore there was an improvement of the children and parents understanding each other better.
The whole process is very beneficial in teaching the individuals concerned to work out their problems as a family so everyone is included.